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Barley, Beef, and Mushroom Soup

(recipe, Lorna Sass)


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Introduction

Surely one of the best-known and most-loved grain soups is mushroom barley soup. Typically it is made with pearl barley, so named because its bran layer has been rubbed or "pearled" off. While you can make this soup with any type of barley, I encourage you to try it with the hull-less barley. Unlike other forms of this much-loved grain, the hull-less variety has the courtesy to resist guzzling up every last drop of liquid if the soup sits awhile.

Ingredients

  1. ¼ oz. (¼ cup) dried mushrooms (porcini are divine, but supermarket dried mushrooms are fine)
  2. 1 lb. beef chuck, cut into ½-inch pieces
  3. Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  4. 1½ to 2½ Tbsp. vegetable oil
  5. 1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  6. 3 cups chopped leeks (white and light-green parts)
  7. 1 cup finely diced carrots
  8. ½ lb. cremini or button mushrooms, some sliced, some halved or quartered
  9. ¾ cup barley, preferably hull-less, rinsed
  10. ¼ cup chopped fresh dill

Steps

  1. Set the dried mushrooms in a heatproof glass measuring cup or bowl and pour 2 cups of boiling water over them. Cover and set aside until the mushrooms are soft, 10 to 15 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, season the beef with salt and pepper. Heat 1½ tablespoons of the oil in a large, heavy pot over high heat. Brown the meat on all sides, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the balsamic vinegar and cook for an additional 30 seconds. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the meat to a plate.
  3. If there is no fat in the pot, add the remaining tablespoon of oil. Add the leeks, carrots, and fresh mushrooms. Season with a sprinkling of salt. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in the barley, browned beef, and 6 cups of water.
  4. Remove the soaked mushrooms with a slotted spoon and add them to the soup. Pour in the soaking water, taking care to leave behind any grit that has settled to the bottom. Season the soup with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Bring the soup to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the beef and barley are tender, 50 to 60 minutes. Stir in the dill and adjust the seasonings to taste. Serve hot.

Note

Grain exchange: Use kamut instead of barley. Vegetarian mushroom-barley soup: Omit the beef. Instead of adding 6 cups of water, use vegetable broth. Use 2 teaspoons Japanese soy sauce to replace some of the salt.